An Early Gift from the Past
This afternoon when I arrived home a stack of mail awaited me on the kitchen counter. In the stack was a book I’d ordered. Yes, I do still like reading the ink-on-paper variety. I write in them, too – a living conversation with words ancient or new – and this makes me a happy reader.
But finding a book in the mail stack or on the front porch is nothing unusual. The surprise in this book today was the author. And the topic. The real surprise is that I had overlooked this book for so long.
It has been 11 years since I first sat down in silence and began the practice of centering prayer. It has been 20 years since I first sat down in a classroom with Dr. Wayne Oates to learn the tasks and the art of pastoral care. It has been more than 30 years since he wrote Nurturing Silence in a Noisy Heart. I was still in middle school.
Dr. Oates was my first and most important seminary professor of pastoral care. Sitting in his class was like sitting under a waterfall of wisdom. It just poured out generously each day, and none of us could get enough. He was a founder of the Clinical Pastoral Education movement, a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Louisville, author of scores of books and hundreds of articles. Yet every time I talked to him in his office or sent him a note, he responded like I was the only student that mattered in that moment. This extended into my first call, where occasionally I would send him a thanks for something he taught me. He always wrote back. Even after the mini-strokes began to affect his handwriting.
I had no idea that Wayne Oates had written a book about silence. Yet here it is. I don’t even recall how I stumbled onto it last week. But I’m eager to read it. And write in the margins and converse with this early Christmas gift from the past.
“writing this book has often been an experiment in silence amid the mainstream of my noisy world. As I write this page, I am in my most silent place — at my desk at home — at the quietest time — it is five a.m. I am the farthest from noise I will be during the day. I can hear the pulse beat in my left ear. That is louder than the noise of distant traffic driving down the freeway. As a result, starting to write these words presents me with an obstacle course similar to the one facing you as you start nurturing silence in your noisy heart.”